I don’t know about you but how I sign off a message isn’t something I particularly give much thought to. However, this became part of a key ruling in a trial in family court centred on a couple and their child. After a woman accused her estranged husband of abuse he argued that she would sign off messages with “x” and that was “flirtatious” believing she wouldn’t do so if she thought he was an abuser. The judge’s ruling is obviously of paramount importance to this individual case but it also sets a precedent as to how victims in domestic abuse trials should be treated and how progress can be made.
The couple, who remain anonymous, are going through a family court dispute involving their child. During proceedings Judge Farooq Ahmed was asked to make “findings of fact” after the woman accused her estranged husband of abusing her. The man denied these accusations and said that whenever he messaged her she would sign off her messages with a kiss. The man said that this was "flirtatious” and she wouldn’t do that if she thought he was an abuser. The judge disagreed. The details of Judge Ahmed’s ruling were published and the Independent reported he said, “the father relies upon numerous text messages ... in which the mother repeatedly signs off with a kiss. He regards this as flirtatious and not something that she would have done had she really regarded him as an abuser.”
"I find that the mother was not being flirtatious. It was just her way of signing off. The father is wrong to read anything into it."
Judge Ahmed ruled that the man had abused the woman on a number of occasions in their marriage. According to the Office of National Statistics an estimated 1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2017. In 2018 they said an estimated 4.3 million women aged 16-59 have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. On average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales and the police in England and Wales receive an average of over 100 calls related to domestic abuse every hour. Abuse is a massive problem and despite the rise in offences recorded by the police in 2018, the charity Women’s Aid reported that domestic abuse is still under-reported.
The ruling by Judge Ahmed highlighted the importance of listening to survivors in the courtroom. If more women feel like they will be listened to and supported then they may feel empowered to report incidences of abuse.
The ruling comes ahead of the publication of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill which will introduce the first statutory definition of domestic abuse and will include nonphysical forms of abuse like financial and emotional. According to Sky, the chair of the Home Affairs select committee Yvette Cooper MP said, “rightly the government has recognised the serious problem of economic abuse. But Universal Credit is making it much harder for women to maintain financial independence or to leave abusive relationships and the government's insistence on a single household payment is a serious retrograde step."
The Domestic Abuse Bill also marks the creation of a new role — domestic abuse commissioner. The position is intended to help hold all levels of government to account on the issue of domestic abuse. On the government website the Crime, Safeguarding, and Vulnerabilities Minister Victoria Atkins said, “having a Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner to focus solely on domestic abuse issues will be a turning point in how we respond to this crime.”
These are small steps in the direction of reducing the number of incidences of domestic abuse and ensuring survivors know that they will be supported, listening to, and taken seriously. While an argument about the way someone signs their text message off may seem small the precedent it sets is massive.